« 上一頁繼續 »
Sonnet to Twilight. By Mifs Helen Williams,
SH OR TV I E W
STATE OF KNOWLEDGE,
LITERATURE, AND TASTE,
IN THIS COUNTRY,
From the NORMAN CONQUEST, to the ACCESSION of
King EDWARD the First.
THE Norman Conquest, whilst it was a most impor
tant Revolution with regard to the political state of this country, could not fail of having some influence on the understandings and the manners of the people in general. The Normans, from their residence in France, had acquired certain ideas of splendour and refinement; and the complete establishment of the feudal system introduced new magnificence and elegance among our unpolished ancestors. The great lords, who came over with the Conqueror, having obtained large allotments of land in the different parts of the kingdom, diffused the knowledge of various inprovements which had been entirely unknown in the most flourishng periods of the Saxon government, and gave a more liberal turn to the minds even of the provincial inhabitants. From the greater degree of extent and fatelinels with which castles and churches were now built, it is evident that the Norman adventurers brought with them a 1783
superior acquaintance with the arts. With respect to literature in particular, several circumstances concurred to make it appear with a lustre which it had not hitherto attained *.
William the Conqueror was a patron and a lover of learning. He had received a good education, was fond of reading, and was pleased with the conversation of men of letters, whom he raised to the highest dignities and richest benefices in the church. This had excited a great ardour for literary pursuits among the clergy in Normandy, and was afterwards productive of the same effect in England. In confequence of William's generosity, some of the most emi. nent scholars from the continent came into Britain, and contributed, both by their example and instructions, to promote the desire and advancement of knowledge. The king paid a particular attention to the education of his children; and his youngest son, Henry the First, became the most learned prince, and the greatest promoter of learning, of the age in which he lived. Hence it was that he obtained the surname of Beauclerk, the title by which he is ufually distinguished t.
We must not, from this account of things, form any very high ideas of the literature of the times. A progrefs was made in it which, perhaps, may be deemed considerable, when compared with the ignorance of the preceding period : but the state of knowledge was still extremely imperfect, and what degrees there were of it were confined to a few persons. What was more unfortunate still, the learning of the age, instead of being applied to the crue enlargement of the human mind, was converted to the support of bigotry, fuperftition, and ecclefiaftical power.
It was during the government of the Norman line, that the absurdest principles, and the most extravagant claims of the church of Rome, made their way into che inand. The doctrine of transubstantiation gradually gained ground, and at length, by the encouragement and influence of Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, was universally received. A little after, Anselm, his fucceffor, obtained the victory in
# Dr. Henry
the long-contested point relative to the celibacy of the clergy; and it was ordered that no priests of any kind should be allowed to marry: nay, such as, were already married, were prohibiced from living with their wives. There were likewise many contentions about investitures, legates, the pall, and other things which we only mention to shew the ambition and infolence of the Roman pontiffs, and the low state of knowledge to which the nation in general was reduced. Indeed several of our princes, while they quietly admitted the doctrines, struggled hard against the temporal encroachments of the popes : but our princes struggled in vain; for methods were generally found to make them, in the end, submit.
From the Conquest to the death of Stephen, the kingdom was not destitute of writers, who had a great reputation in their day, though their works would be read with little regard in the prelent enlightened age. If we look into the authors of those times, we shall perceive them to be chiefly of two kinds, the divines and the historians. The treatises of the former either abound with the subtleties of a quirkilh logic, or the overflowings of a weak and superstitious de. votion. As to the latter, they are extremely defective in marter, order, judgment and style; but yet they are very useful, as being the only sources from which we can draw our accouacs of past transactions.
Among the divines of the Norman period, Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, bears no inconsiderable rank. In learning he was confessedly equal to any of his contemporaries, and his writings were long held in repute. It was unhappy that the talents of so able a man, and whose character was, in many respects, exceedingly valuable, should be employed in vindicating the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Anfelm is, at prefent, more known by his bigoted zeal for the authority and pretensions of the church of Rome, than by his works, though they are pretty voluminous ; and father Gerberon has published a handsome edition of them. According to the testimony of Du Pin, many metaphysical questions are started in them, and argued with a 2
much seeming acuteness. Anselin first introduced the fashioni, so long in vogue, of composing prayers in the form of meditations.
The literature of Gilbert, bishop of London, obtained him the appellation of the Universalift : but very little regard is due to this pompous title, which the admiration of an ignorant age was ready to bestow on any person, whose knowledge was above the common standard.
Arnulph, Godfrid, and Osmund, were also celebrated divines, and wrote in the strain of their contemporaries. The Jast of them is only diftinguished by correcting the Sarum Liturgy, which was afterwards received by all the dioceses of the kingdom.
The historians that flourished at this period, are more deserving of our notice. During the reign of William the Conqueror; Marianus, a Scotchman, who lived at Fulda, compoled a general history of Europe, from the creation 10 the year 1082. As to the authors who have given a relation of the evengs of our own country, the first, in order of time, is Ingulph; who, in his account of Croyland, has occasionally inserted the actions of our kings, during the space of four centuries. William of Poidtiers, though a foreigner, has described the Norinan Revolution with a fairness that has intitled him to good credir.
Florence of Worcester, and Vitalis, have no distinguished merit; and, though their compositions are useful, are much inferior to Eadmer, Alredus, and William of Hibury, who were the principal historians of their day.
Eadmer composed a relation of the reigns of the Conqueror and his two sons, from 1066 to 1122; and the work is allowed to be a piece of great value. It is thought to excel both in the choice and disposition of its matter ; and its style has been applauded by the most judicious authors.
Alredus, who was very little known till his Annals were published by Mr. Hearne, in 1716, wrote an abridgment of our history, from Brutus, to Henry the First, and it is one of the best performances that has escaped the depredations of time. His conciseness, perfpicuity, and elegance, together with the nature of his plan, have gained him the